The History of Photography, Pt. 4
Ever wondered how we got from the delicate film cameras our grandparents used to the convenient digital cameras we use today? The advancements from film cameras to HD all happened in less than a century. This blog is the final in our series about the history of photography. We’ll cover the developments from after World War I to the 21st century and go over how the camera evolved into what it is today.
By the 1940s, progress made in color processing allowed photographers to expand their creative endeavors. The vividness of color led them to focus on the elemental aspects of photography. After World War I, many American photographers began to capture images aligned with the abstract expressionist movement rather than documentary photography. A few decades later, in the ‘60s, these techniques and ideas had traveled to Asia. They used color to create vivid and abstract images that focused on street life and modern social affairs.
Street photography, like that practiced in China, is a specific branch of the documentary genre. This form of photography drew many to it due to its spontaneous nature. Unlike social documentation, street photography isn’t aiming to capture social issues but instead natural scenes of everyday life. Notable subjects of the mid 20th century include urban life in Europe, the civil rights movement, and underprivileged children. Photographers worldwide took advantage of the light and portable cameras of this time to capture these environments. Many other photographers used social documentation to view and dissect life during the postwar period. In America, they used 35-mm cameras to capture everyday activities in industrial areas. These images complimented another prevalent theme of the period pop art’s exploration of the modern-day consumer lifestyle.
Maintaining the trend of social documentation emerged a grittier and often darker style of the genre in the 1970s and ‘80s. Photographers such as Larry Clark and Nan Goldin recorded the alternative culture in American that included addition, casual sex, and crossdressing. Some photographers even used this style to capture in-depth, personal scenes that included their own families. Goldin often used color to heighten the intensity and bleakness of these images.
During and following the 1970s, photojournalism became widely popular thanks to the rise of tv news. People gained an interest in photobooks of momentous events or topical matters, which led photographs to capture images to fill books. Photographers published photos in magazines and picture books along with text describing the images. Photojournalists documented several different scenes from indigenous groups, impoverished communities, and street life.
Other genres like fashion and landscape photography also flourished during this time. Many photographers utilized the vividness of color to depict beautiful nature scenes and architecture. The addition of their work into museums' collections entirely changed the job of fashion photographers. Images of fashion and celebrities that graced the covers and inner folds of magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar were seen as art that deserved to display in galleries and museums.
By the 1980s and ‘90s, photography was finally beginning to gain respect as an equal artform to other forms of traditional art. Photo installations, performance art, and videos all expanded the range of art forms and altered what people considered art. From mixed media to portrait to montages, photography flourished during the end of the 20th century.
During the latter decades of the century, all these changes developed during the transition from analog to digital cameras. The advancement began during the late 1980s as the first digital cameras were released for consumers to buy. By 1990, Adobe had introduced their program Photoshop which allowed for the digital alterations of images. This, in turn, revolutionized the very essence of photography.
The effects of this new digital age of photography weren’t prevalent until the beginning of the new millennial. The ease and quickness of editing and transferring these images made it so that all photojournalists were using digital cameras. However, many people were troubled by the manipulation, the surge of altered photos led to the development of ethic codes. While journalists were careful with editing, other photographers used it to create alternative and innovative styled images. Fashion and celebrity photographers often had their pictures modified before they were printed in magazines to minimize blemishes.
To date, the most compelling and altering advancement of digital photography was the development of expansion and improvement of photo taking and sharing. Commercial photography and governmental use of photography also increased due to this new ease of taking and uploading images. Most profoundly, the introduction of smartphones in the middle of the 2000s alongside online apps allowed for images to be captured and transferred within seconds.
Today, thanks to social media and the amazing cameras in our smartphones, we too can effortlessly snap a picture of our everyday lives and share them with the world. Cameras have come a long way since their early developments centuries ago. Photography currently occupies both the modern age of art and digital communication. While its identity has changed so much over the years its importance as a method to tell visual stories remains as essential as ever.